'Hobbit' Sequel Tops South Korean Box Office Despite Distribution Controversy

One of the season's most anticipated films, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" is not showing in major Seoul theaters due to dispute over profit shares.

SEOUL — The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug topped the South Korean box office over the weekend with close to one million admissions — in spite of the fact that the Peter Jackson film could not debut in major Seoul theaters due to a disagreement between Warner Bros. Korea and major cinemas over profit shares.

According to the Korean Film Council (KOFIC), the Hobbit sequel finished No. 1 in the box office by hauling in 829,583 admissions as it showed on 809 screens across the country from Dec. 13-15. Since opening here on Dec. 12 it has drawn a total 969,491 admissions.

The film is not showing in any of the Seoul theaters operated by CJ CGV and missing from most Seoul branches of Lotte Cinema. CGV and Lotte are two of Korea's largest multiplex theater chains. Under normal circumstances, Hobbit 2 would have shown on close to 1,000 screens in Seoul alone. Movie theaters in the capital normally account for up to a third of a given film's total box office score in Korea.

STORY: Inside 'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' Premiere

Hobbit 2 missing from screens is disappointing for many moviegoers especially since CGV is the only brand in the country equipped with IMAX and 4DX theaters, and the title is available in various formats including 3D, HFR 3D, IMAX, 4DX, and Dolby Atmos. Given the great success and popularity of the Lord of the Rings franchise and first Hobbit film in Korea, Hobbit 2 has been one of the season's most anticipated titles.

Local distributors traditionally have taken home 60 percent of net profits for imported films in Seoul theaters while cinemas claimed the remaining 40 percent. Outside of the capital, the ratio has been 50:50. Earlier this year, however, CGV decided to adjust the profit share for Seoul theaters to 50:50, and Warner Bros. could not come to an agreement over the terms before Hobbit 2's release.

For similar reasons it was difficult for moviegoers in Seoul to watch Monsters University in CGV theaters in September and Thor: Dark World in October.

On Dec. 10, CGV announced through its official website, "Due to distributor Warner Brothers' refusal [to distribute] we cannot screen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in Seoul. Warner Brothers requested a high distribution fee for the Seoul region and announced its refusal to distribute the film before its release."

A publicist for the company said, "We deeply regret the inconvenience to customers and are trying our best to resolve the situation."

A spokesperson for Lotte Cinema expressed a similar position. "For the same reasons we could not show Hobbit 2 in our Seoul theaters, save for five branches in the city," she said, adding, "We are currently discussing matters but cannot disclose details at the moment."

Meanwhile, homespun drama Way Back Home starring Cannes-winning actress Jeon Do-yeon came in second in the weekend box office, followed by imports rom-com About Time, Insidious: Chapter 2, and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.